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So what is "alambre" with regard to Mexican cuisine?

  • BeaN Apr 5, 2007 06:15 PM
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During our recent trip to the Yucatan peninsula (not the state), we ordered "alambre" dishes more than once. My understanding of the term is "wire," to be rendered as a skewer where food is involved.

What we were served was really good, but it did not come off of a skewer. I would have described it as a skillet fry.

Please illuminate me.

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  1. I haven't been to the Yucatan Peninsula but I have ordered alambre in the US. It's like an intense fajita-type dish. The marinade is a little more pungent but other than that, it's fajitas as far as I'm concerned.

    1. It seems from searching around that there are two different meanings of alambre.

      Some of it is classic shishkabobs. As this site says ...
      http://www.sailinglinks.com/mexican_r...

      "Alambre -Literally "wire." Refers to shishkabobs."

      So here is one example of that ...ALHAMBRES DE POLLO
      http://lomexicano.com/alhambres_de_po...

      But there is the other version as this site says ...
      http://everything2.com/index.pl?node_...

      "A tasty mexican dish. It is a combination of chopped things, usually including meat, roasted together on a hot slab of metal (which I am sure has a more precise name in English)."

      Maybe alambre is the name of that hot metal slab, though I didn't see anything about that. The above link and the following link also mention cheese added at the end.
      http://www.aczoom.com/cms/taxonomy/te...

      "alambre - meat, onions, peppers, bacon, all grilled, on a tortilla, optionally with hot layer of cheese on top"

      Ok, this is a real stretch ... but alambre is the Portuguese word for amber ... maybe there's some long ago Portuguese connection here with the cheese and corn tortillas giving the dish an amber color.
      http://www.babylon.com/definition/ala...

      Maybe some of the Mexican food gurus have an opinion on this.

      1 Reply
      1. re: rworange

        I've seen it in the first context you mention: referring to the wire that holds together the kabob...

      2. The "al" beginning of the word actually indicates the Arab - or Moorish - influence of the origin of the dish.

        Alambre is basically meat, seafood or vegetables that are threaded onto a skewer and then roasted. Not only can it be called alambre, it can be menued as brocheta, aguja or even mar y tierra (sea and land, a combo skewer). It can be marinated, or cooked "au naturale". It can be on or off the skewer. It can be wrapped in bacon, or not.

        In the northern part of Mexico it's not unusual to encounter alambres made of cabrito (kid/goat) and in the south out of beef. The most commonly used vegetables are onion, bell pepper, mushroom and calabacitas or squash.

        Aguja means needle or spindle in Spanish and in alambre refers to the skewer that is sometimes used. But, essentially, Alambre refers to the Moorish origin of stringing food onto a metal spire of some form and roasting or cooking, usually over wood or charcoal.

        6 Replies
        1. re: DiningDiva

          Indeed, now that I think about it, I am fairly sure that the Portuguese word rw mentions had its origins in Arabic. It seems that in some areas of Mexico, that alambre has come to mean roasted or grilled meat more generally, even if not served on a skewer. But I am not sure it would be skillet fried as OP mentions.

          1. re: susancinsf

            No, it would not be skillet fried as in fajitas.

            1. re: susancinsf

              Confirmed... recently Alambre has been extended to represent griddled combinations of chopped meats, vegetables & cheese. The latter style of cooking has historically been referred to as al Albanil (in the style of the brick masons)... my theory is that it is simply confusion on behalf of "simple rural folks"... Albanil, Alambre... they both start with Al

            2. re: DiningDiva

              Sorry for the linguistic intrusion, but alambre in peninsular Spanish simply means wire. I do not think the dishes in Mexico called alambre have any particular origin in Spain (aside from being similar to any kind of skewered meat--normally called a pincho here).

              Alambre come from the latin word, aerāmen, (arame in Portuguese) originally meaning bronze. Amber is ámbar in Spanish.

              1. re: butterfly

                Alambre in Mexican Spanish also only means 'wire'. By extension, in restaurant lingo, it is used to infer 'en brochette'--on a metal skewer. Most often the whatever-is-ordered is cooked on a skewer and then de-skewered and plated.

                'Alambre' is definitely not fajitas--which are definitely not Mexican, although you will see them on some restaurants' menu in Mexico.

                Link: http://www.mexicocooks.typepad.com

              2. re: DiningDiva

                Great response.

              3. I live in Mexico city where alambre dishes can be found on most menus. Here, there is definitely no requirement that the food come off the skewer. Typically, an alambre here has a diced mild green chile, onions, meat and sometimes bacon. Alambre can be served as a filling for tacos, a topping for huaraches (a thick flat tortilla topped with spread beans, meat, onions, cilantro and cheese), a topping for a grilled nopal cactus or on its own. A common meat included is "al pastor" which is a marinated pork cooked on a vertical rotisserie (here's a picture: http://www.batista.org/photos/pastor2...). Al pastor means "shepherd style". It wouldn't surprise me if there was an original requirement for skewered meat as the name seems to apply, but now, here in Mexico City, the emphasis is on stir-frying the above, relatively finely chopped, ingredients together.

                4 Replies
                1. re: heymister

                  Sorry to revive an old thread, but I want to confirm that at least some of you agree that an alambre can be essentially skillet cooked rather than skewered? That certainly is what the ones I've had appear to be, as in the attached photo...thanks!

                   
                  1. re: tatamagouche

                    When I lived in Mexico City, that is precisely how it was served to me on numerous occasions. I don't know if that is 'true' to the original intent of the dish, but it had seen some sort of skillet at some point late in the cooking process.

                    1. re: Cachetes

                      Thanks! The place I frequent specializes in Mexico City style cuisine.

                      1. re: tatamagouche

                        I was just in Mexico City and had an alambre with al pastor that was a skillet (actually griddle) fried combo of the meat with diced onions and peppers and bacon, served with tortillas on the side. I guess it evolved with the traditional kebab veggies into a kind of stir fry.

                        http://petercheches.blospot.com

                2. As implied in all the previous replies, there is a dichotomy on the usage of the term. In my experience, most southern regions (from Michoacan to Yucatan -including Mexico City-) use the term for a stir-fry medley type plate to use as taco filling. Northern states (from Jalisco to Chihuahua) refer to alambre mostly as the skewer type of preparation. Some places just cook it in the skewer and then remove it before serving on the plate. As usual though, the Mexico city (and southern) definition is increasingly popular in tourist destinations.

                  1. In a local restaurant here in boulder co.. operated by a family from Chihuahua the dish
                    is a pan fried mix of chopped pork, chorizo and bacon. It is served in Tacos, and Tortas.
                    Oui la la

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: paul balbin

                      Same thing here in Northern NJ- great greasy, wonderfully evil stuff! Cooked on a flat top, not skewers.

                      1. re: TongoRad

                        The Tex-Mex alambres I've had, in Texas, are skewered and cooked over an open flame, are not greasy and are actually good for you. Lean beef, chicken, or both with lots of veggies, tomatoes, bell pepper, onion, and sometimes mushrooms, but never cheese or bacon.

                    2. I posted about a small local taqueria on Chowhound and Yelp a few years ago. Recently the owner found out about it on Yelp and thanked me via their messaging system and said they were now serving alambre.

                      When I replied to the email and asked what was alambre she replied

                      " Good question! Well, I myself don't know either... I researched a bit and finally I asked my father if he knew and he explained that every region makes up their own story. In Jalisco, the state we're from, people joke with the name of the dish... Since alambre means "wire," when they order one, they tend to say "...Un Alambre sin puas..." That means "...a barbed wire without the sharp pointed twisted wires..." We suppose that the combination of the beef, bacon, peppers and cheese, resemble tangled barb wires... At La Estrella, like I said earlier to you, the Alambre's becoming our signature dish, it has been consider the best in Richmond and in the whole east bay by customers. Many walk in jokingly asking for "un Alambre sin puas," and it catches the attention of others, making the dish more interesting and therefore, popular"

                      Haven't tried it yet, but looking forward to giving it a try. Very cool that this little place found its nitch. There are a zillion of these small taquerias and this was a nice one. It is located across the street from a very popular McDonalds. My Yelp report said that for the same price or less, better food could be had across the street. Not one person ever posted a review but me. So good to know that they found a way to distingush themselves. Nice people.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: rworange

                        I finally tried Alambre today !!!

                        It reminded me of a Mexican version of a Philly cheese steak filling … with bacon … can’t go wrong with that.

                        At La Estrella it is tender slices of steak, oozy cheese, chopped grilled onions, sliced bacon and red and green peppers mixed together. What is Spanish for ‘yum’?

                        After trying I have my own theory about the name. The cheese, like cheese on a hot pizza or lasagna, has melty strands … wires.

                        Here’s a picture from the website. If the larger image doesn’t work, then the second link is the thumbnail. There is a link on the upper right that says 'fit image to browser'. Click on that.

                        http://www.taquerialaestrella1.zoomsh...

                        http://www.taquerialaestrella1.zoomsh...

                        1. re: rworange

                          weird! that your taqueria serves alambres with rice & beans. round here you just get corn tortillas, double-stack (10 total) with the glorious alambres mix on top. i always get carnitas alambres. heart healthy, you know. ;-)

                          leftovers aren't bad heated up in a skillet, with a couple of fried eggs on top.

                          the melty cheese--wires is a good theory!

                          1. re: soupkitten

                            Leftovers ... are you kidding? I scarfed this down ... I mean .. bacon ... cheese. However, next time if I have leftovers, good to know they can be reheated.

                            1. re: rworange

                              LOL i'm no slouch, but even i have limits-- the portion i get is huge! it's time i learned to post pix on chowhound anyway. next time i get a to-go order of alambres i'll take a pic to show you :)

                              1. re: rworange

                                I know of a place that makes an enormous serving of alambres- beef, bacon, chorizo, cheese, onions, peppers, topped with avacado slices, served with a stack of tortillas on the side- no rice and beans either. When I get it for lunch there are no leftovers, but I really don't feel like eating again until the next day.

                        2. I was just reading this forum and I'm tickled to see my thread revived here. I didn't get to go to Mexico this year, so thanks for the memory!

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: BeaN

                            de nada.

                          2. I was just reading intheroo.com, a Quintana Roo discussion forum, dreaming of Mexico moments ago, and lo and behold, here's my post from 2+ years ago.

                            And I didn't get to go to Mexico again this year. It's been over two years since my last vacation. I'm really hating life right now.

                            1. A lot of people have noted that alambre means literally "wire" and seem to speculate that this refers to metal wire as in a skewer but the Latino cook at a local authentic Mexican restaurant says it refers to the way the cheese in the mixture stretches out thinly like wire when it sticks to their spatula(s) while they are grilling it together with pre-marinated and cooked meats either in a skillet or grill top, which is the last step in preparation.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: tasmo68

                                Italians use 'ala telefono' (telephone wires) to name dishes where cheese (usually mozzarella) forms a tangle of strings.

                              2. You are correct. Alambre does mean wire in Spanish, including Mexico, and comes from Arabic. Remember, the Moors were in Spain until 1492. In the context of cooking it refers to what we call a skewer, because what's cooed is skewered by something, by a wire or, more likely, by something else. The variations of the ingredients, as one would imagine, may vary, and does greatly. They are often served after being removed from the skewer, but can also be prepared without a skewer altogether. Then, they resemble foods that were skewered when cooked--most likely on purpose. Remember, there's more than one to skin a cat. I think the question I would ask myself when served is did I get what I expected? Exactly how it was prepared, or even if I liked it or not, for me would be different questions.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: DPGood

                                  As butterfly said above (back in 2007), "alambre" does not come from Arabic. The original form of the word "arambre" was possibly modified under influence of all the "al-" words in Spanish, but the word itself comes from Latin.

                                  http://lema.rae.es/drae/?val=alambre
                                  http://lema.rae.es/drae/?val=arambre

                                2. dude whatever the meaning is they are so freakin good around here it's all I can order anymore from the taco tucks in Napa CA! Yountville has the best bacon carne asada, chorizo, onion, cheese, radish, roasted red and yellow pepper,green onion, jalapeno and oh the salsa forget it I want to say avo salsa verde plus just in case you need to be kicked in the mouth with more flavor a roasted hot pepper on the side with a lime wedge that you'll be nursing if you bite it. This is food porn at it's finest lol